Saudi King Abdullah dies, half-brother Salman is new ruler


AFP

Saudi Arabia’s elderly King Abdullah died on Friday and was replaced by his half-brother Salman as the absolute ruler of the world’s top oil exporter and the spiritual home of Islam. The funeral for Saudi King Abdullah got under way Friday with foreign leaders gathering in a cavernous mosque in the capital. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif joined Gulf leaders for the funeral prayer at the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque in Riyadh, television pictures showed. Abdullah’s covered body was borne on a simple litter carried by men wearing traditional red-and-white checked shemagh head gear, following the mid-afternoon Asr prayers. Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, and Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah were among other leaders at the funeral which followed the ailing Abdullah’s death. The royal court said in a statement that Abdullah, believed to be around 90, died at 1:00 a.m. local time, expressing its ��great sadness and mourning.�� Another of the late monarch’s half-brothers, Moqren, was named the new crown prince. In his first public statement as the new ruler, the 79-year-old King Salman vowed to maintain a steady course for the conservative kingdom. He called for ��unity and solidarity�� among Muslims and vowed to work in ��the defense of the causes of our nation.�� Abdullah pushed through cautious changes while in power, challenging conservatives with moves such as including women in the Shura Council, an advisory body. He promoted the kingdom’s economic development and oversaw its accession to the World Trade Organization, tapping into the country’s massive oil wealth to build new cities, universities and high-speed railways.

Leaders Pay Tribute Other tributes came in from foreign leaders, with French President Francois Hollande hailing Abdullah as ��a statesman whose work profoundly marked the history of his country.��

The presidency said Hollande would travel to Saudi Arabia to ��offer his condolences�� but that the exact timing of the trip had yet to be decided. British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was ��deeply saddened�� and that Abdullah would be remembered for ��his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths.�� Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also postponed a planned trip to Somalia to attend the funeral. Tehran nonetheless offered condolences over Abdullah’s death, saying Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would travel to Riyadh to take part in official ceremonies. Behind his thick, jet-black moustache and goatee, Abdullah had a shrewd grasp of regional politics. Wary of the rising influence of Islamist movements, Saudi has been a generous supporter of Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi since the army’s ouster of Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt declared seven days of official mourning for Abdullah. Saudi Arabia has also played a key role in supporting opposition to Iran-backed President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, allowing U.S. troops to use its territory to train rebel fighters.